The Frozen Ground Blu-ray Review
When a connoisseur of all things movies hears the “starting lineup” for a film, the first synapse fired in the brain is usually devoted to running a cross reference check to see if the stars have ever worked together on any previous noteworthy projects. Oh sure, you can covertly whip out your handy, dandy smartphone, launch the IMDB app and ruse your friends into thinking you extracted the info out of your cerebellum of vast movie knowledge, but aren’t you really just hurting yourself? But I digress; the masthead for the scarcely released film THE FROZEN GROUND immediately elicits such a reaction with both Nicholas Cage and John Cusack at the helm, though it’s not exactly a “gimme” as to when they’ve crossed each other’s paths on screen before. In 1997’s CON AIR their characters’ interactions were important to the story, but they mostly took place by phone until the film’s final minutes. This time around it’s a much more intimate face off as Cage plays the detective heading up the investigation to try and pin a string of murders on an alleged serial killer played by Cusack.
Based on real-life events, THE FROZEN GROUND follows the investigation of Alaskan state trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicholas Cage), a fictional character who represents a consolidation of the many men and women who worked on the actual case, as he reopens an investigation into Robert Hansen (John Cusack) for the murder of numerous women. Since Hansen is meticulously careful, the DA has not been able to make a solid case against him. Halcombe’s only hope is Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), a prostitute that escaped from Hansen before he could murder her, however her credibility and her non-desire to testify against Hansen is jeopardizing Halcombe’s ability to make an arrest.
Cage and Cusack have great chemistry even before they ever share a scene together. Sometimes you just want to see two actors trade lines because they have a similar poise and presence, creating intrigue whether they’re reciting from a great script or going over IKEA instructions to build a new entertainment center. Unfortunately this script leans toward the latter as most of the dialogue in the film feels like you’re constantly being read your Miranda rights. Just about every scene begins with someone delivering a rundown on a previous situation. It’s probably very realistic and entertaining to an actual officer of the law, but it makes for very poor and confusing story development. The only areas where the film takes a break from being a police report and starts becoming a movie again is when Cage and Cusack go head to head in a few interrogation scenes, demonstrating a microcosm of the high ceiling possible with the duo if they were to ever get the proper material.
Taking full advantage of a script where 95% of the emotion falls on her character’s shoulders, Vanessa Hudgens (SPRING BREAKERS, SUCKER PUNCH) will surprise most viewers as she solidifies herself as an actor to be taken seriously. Hudgens is able to not only convey the deep rooted pain of a girl who was sexually abused as a child, but also the jadedness of a drug addicted, angry-at-the-world young woman hiding behind a persistent smirk on the verge of laughing and crying at the same time. It’s truly a great performance that will probably go unrecognized due to the virtual direct-to-video status of the film.
Even though the performances manage to keep the subpar script afloat, there’s nothing that can mask the mightily flawed production. First-time writer/director Scott Walker can be commended on his use of location in real Alaskan wilderness and towns to convey the dark tone and grit of the film. Unfortunately, “shaky-cam” was used more like a new toy on Christmas instead of an accent during appropriate times to enhance the mood of a scene. And while I’m sure Walker wanted to be as faithful as possible to the story out of respect to all the real-life victims, he seemed to forget that a story still needs a coherent flow. Choppiness would be an understatement as the pace moves so frantically that vital information to the plot whizzes by, leaving the viewer trying to catch up like a court stenographer equipped with only a pen and Post-it notes.
The importance of the subject matter in THE FROZEN GROUND and the valiant performances of the actors is enough to keep the audience interested in the outcome. However, the lack of execution in dialogue, editing and directing will forever keep it from ever reaching even the lowest tier of memorable films in the same genre.
THE FROZEN GROUND BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.40:1 Widescreen, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p: THE FROZEN GROUND is a 100% digitally shot movie, during brightly lit day shots the sharpness and detail are of high quality. However the night scenes did not demonstrate the deep black levels you’d expect, perhaps due to digital compression. The film has an overall grayish tone, purposefully chosen due to the subject matter, but some scenes appear overly murky and seem to drop out of high resolution at times.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: Have your remote control nearby, especially if you’re watching this film late at night and do not feel like putting the kids back to sleep again. This soundtrack is one of those horrible mixes where dialogue at low registers is easily drowned out by any background noise, and then when you raise the volume to hear what the characters are saying, the effects come back and cause your sound system to violate the neighborhood noise ordinance.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Scott Walker and Producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming – The commentary on this film is for the most part informative and worth the watch if you enjoyed the movie enough to actually watch it twice. The producers take turns relaying questions off the director and keep the conversation fluid throughout the track.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Writer/Director Scott Walker (8 min) – a few short scenes with no real consequence whether they were left in the movie or not. However, about once every 10 of these deleted-scene reels there’s actually a clip that would’ve enhanced the story or deepened a character’s background. Such is the case with John Cusack’s character Robert Hansen.
Examining ‘The Frozen Ground’ (20 min) – The highlight of this featurette is getting to hear from Glenn Flothe, the real-life Alaskan trooper that a large part of Cusack’s character is based upon. There are also behind-the-scenes comments from the cast and crew.
Writing ‘The Frozen Ground’ (14 min) – Scott Walker talks about how he evolved a piece of fiction that he was writing to instead emulate actual events. It’s an interesting piece on how a script can start out as one thing and end up completely different in the finished product.
Extended Interviews with Cast and Crew (52 min) – extended segments of the behind-the-scenes interviews with the main cast and crew. Not really worth the time as the main points from these interviews are covered in other features.